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Alabama vs. Arkansas Preview: When the Razorbacks have the Ball

Things haven’t been pretty in Fayetteville

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Kentucky Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like every team Alabama has faced so far this season has either been using a transfer QB or a true freshman. Arkansas is no exception, but this transfer is one we’ve seen before. The former Texas A&M castoff, Nick Starkel, was beat out by the mostly inept Kellen Mond a couple of seasons ago, and has now resurfaced to take over for the Razorbacks.

Arkansas runs a fairly standard pro-spread offense that operates solely from the shotgun, but uses a lot of tight end and H-back lead blocking in the back field. Starkel has the arm strength and accuracy to really stretch the field vertically and open up the short passing game and room for the running backs.

That said, the stats haven’t been too impressive. He’s got over 1000 passing yards (a respectable 7.1 yards/attempt), but is only completing 58% of his passes, and threw 5 interceptions in one game one time. Against San Jose State, no less. On top of that, he’s dealt with some injuries, and, as such, senior Ben Hicks played the entire game last week against Auburn.

Hicks has taken 10 sacks to only 3 from Starkel on nearly 33% less attempts, is only averaging 5.8 yards/attempt at a 50% completion rate. The difference, though, is that he’s only thrown one interception. Where Starkel has the high ceiling, Hicks is much less likely to go into a mind-melt and throw 5 picks in a game.

In any case, the two have combined for a 37% passing success rate and a 7.3% explosive pass rate, which, uh, is not good. Like, hovering just inside the top 100 in FBS bad.

The top target for the Razorbacks is do-it-all senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady. The nearly 260-pound man is known for his blocking, but also leads the team with 29 catches and 359 yards. Next is the towering 6’5” freshman receiver, Trey Knox, with 357 yards, though he’s notably cooled off some from the the first three games of the season.

Sophomore Mike Woods has 319 yards of his own, while 6’3” 225-lb freshman Treylon Burks leads the receiving group with an outstanding 34% explosive catch rate.

In the running game, Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley (who seems like he’s been the #2 at Arkansas for a decade now) split carries about 70-30. With 656 yards on a 5.5 yards per carry mark, Boyd has been a consistent runner up the middle all season long, coming in with a 45% success rate.

Whaley, on the other hand, has a higher explosive rate (8% to 6%), but is sitting at a 33% success rate and a rather ugly 25% stuff rate. That said, the elusive back also has 11 catches this year as a receiving weapon out of the back field.

To be frank, there seems to be little hope for the Arkansas offense this week. Alabama’s biggest defensive issue has been getting stuffs in the run game, but the Arkansas offense has been nearly as bad at giving them up. On the other hand, the Razorback offense is in contention for the worst in the entire league at giving up havoc plays. They’ve been somewhat okay at getting explosive rushes with Whaley at running back— an area that Alabama’s defense has also been more than happy to surrender, but, again, the Tide’s defense is still multiple tiers ahead of their offense there.

With Tua Tagovailoa out, the Tide defense really buckled down in the second half against Tennessee. If they continue to play like they did, then they will have a very good shot to holding the Razorbacks to single-digits, if not a total shut-out.